Garblog's Pages

Friday, April 26, 2013

10 of the worst examples of management-speak

In my Web browsing for blogs, articles and websites about writing, I come across various lists that describe at least 10 words and phrases that the authors think must be eliminated from daily use in offices and publications of business, government, health care, marketing, education, the news media, and other fields. Those words and terms must be eliminated, the authors write, because they're unclear or misleading or jargon or cliches or pompous or bureaucratic or whatever negative adjective the authors apply to their lists.

Although I might not agree that particular words or terms deserve to be in a Top 10 list, I usually agree that writers and editors should consider alternative words and terms that could be more powerful and meaningful to readers. The last six words in the previous sentence are key; the choice is not just about using particular words and terms.

Writers must choose words and terms that will be most effective in capturing the attention and keeping the interest of the expected or desired readers. And they must choose words and terms that can get those readers to respond in the desired way of the writers and their publication or organization.

So, I think reading or skimming all those blogs, articles and websites listing questionable words and phrases is worthwhile. Though I don't list my Top 10, I also provide various lists in Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. It breaks words and terms into these categories:
  • Shorter, simpler words
  • Wordy phrase replacements
  • Redundant phrase replacements.
A recent article with the title of this blog post--"10 of the worst examples of management-speak"--prompted my blog comments today. That article, by Steven Poole in The Guardian, discusses the words below. I list of few of them at Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:
  • Going forward. It means "from now on" or "in [the] future," Poole writes. Why not use one of those terms instead?
  • Drill down. Why not use look at in detail?
  • Action. Why not use a verb instead, like reply or fulfill or even do? Here's a related item in my style manual: 
act, action Often confused and overused. As nouns they overlap in meaning, but use action as the broader term about a process that includes several acts and act as a particular action or type of action. Also, simplify and try omitting actionprevention, not preventive actiondiscipline, not disciplinary action. In addition, act is a strong, clear and concise verb: The department acted on the complaint. She acted quickly after getting the work order. Simplify. Avoid using the bureaucratic take action. And better yet, describe the action: The department changed its hiring process after getting the complaint. She quickly repaired the transmission.
  • End of play. Might today be better?
  • Deliver (and deliverable). Could the most important ones be as meaningful as key deliverables? [My spellchecker, BTW, marks deliverables to be a misspelled word.]
  • Issues. Could problems be more accurate? From my style manual:
issue Overstated to mean a "problem or difficulty." Simplify. Use one of those words instead, and save issue for discussing a controversial topic or matter in dispute. That topic or matter is at issue, not in issue. You could also call it a dispute or a controversy.
  • Leverage ... as a verb. How 'bout using use or exploit instead of this  jargon? My style manual says:
leverage Business jargon used by financial consultants to increase their return on the time they're investing in you by making you feel indebted to them for their understanding of the jargon they're using. For everyday, clear use, influence is a powerful word.
  • Stakeholders. Are you writing about people, such as people who are affected by a certain project? Or, as my style manual says under people, persons
"Participants who need participants are the most wonderful participants in the world." "Members of the community who need members of the community are the most wonderful members of the community in the world." "Those who need those are the most wonderful those in the world." "Others who need others are the most wonderful others in the world." Try people instead!
  • Competencies. Abilities or skills, instead?
  • Sunset ... as a verb. Why not use cancel or kill?
You can get more advice on choosing effective words in this section of Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide

Poole's article is featured today, April 26, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free emails subscription. 

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, organizations don't like to use the word "problem" because it's too negative. Here is an excerpt of a letter that I wrote to the chief executive officer of a vendor that addresses the use of "challenge" rather than "problem" when addressing my complaint. It think it about sums up the problems with the use of "challenge" (or "issue") rather than "problem" or "complaint."

    Please do not ever refer to any of my complaints about your products or services as "John Hightower's challenges to your company." It is NOT my challenge. It is your PROBLEM. Organizations often like to refer to problems without using "problem." The silliest example of this occurred one time when I served as a consultant to the _______ Company. I had an employee call a case of another employee falling into a mixing vat and being killed as an "opportunity." That's taking things too far. On another occasion, I had an Air Force officer tell me that the Air Force did not have problems; it only had situations that required immediate attention.

    If you want to refer to customer complaints among yourselves as challenges, situations that require immediate attention, or opportunities, be my guest. But when I--as the customer--am receiving communication from you, the use of this term for my complaint or problem belittles my concerns and insults my intelligence. It comes across as rampant silliness. Nevertheless, from your point of view in managing your organization and communicating with your employees, I can appreciate why you may want to refer to your problems as challenges. But it is NOT a good idea to do this with people outside of your organization. This terminology has been used by several people on several different occasions recently. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that it was NOT an intentional belittling of my concerns--and it has taken great effort on my part to do so.


Please comment on my blog post--or ask me a question about writing!.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...